NFL Free Agency 2012: Saints' Carl Nicks Should Be A Hot Commodity

New Orleans Saints guard Carl Nicks will be one of the top free agents on the market this year, with plenty of teams chasing him. Will the Saints keep him or let him slip away?

One of my favorite Steve Martin bits from his early stand-up, the stuff that used to get released on vinyl, was his advice for getting rich quick.

"How to make a million dollars. First, get a million dollars."

Another path to wealth and fame is to be a really good guard in the NFL. Once disregarded as simple 300-pound blobs to stick between the center and tackle, guards are prized these days in the NFL. Free agent guards get gobs of money thrown at them every year, with the highest paid guys getting upwards of $8 million per year.

This year's biggest prize among free agent linemen is New Orleans Saints guard Carl Nicks. He was easily the Saints' best lineman, which is significant since the Saints have a very good front five. According to the ratings at Pro Football Focus, Nicks was the second-best guard in the league.

Pass blocking, run blocking ... Nicks does it all. Furthering his case as one of the league's best linemen was the fact that he only drew two penalties last year.

The Case For Staying In New Orleans

In case you didn't notice, the Saints like to pass the ball. They are also very good at passing the ball. Quarterback Drew Brees and his cadre of talented pass catchers receive the lion's share of attention for those efforts. Nothing new there. Throwing and catching the ball is far sexier than big linemen blocking. The cameras fix themselves on the ball, not the heaping piles of sweat turning away the hordes of pass rushers. Brees owes a certain debt of gratitude to his offensive line for his success. They give him the time to make throws, and give the receiver time to get open. Football is a pretty simple game, when you boil it down to the essentials.

The Saints also ran the ball with deadly effectiveness. They owned the second-best rushing attack according to Football Outsiders' DVOA statistics. Only the Carolina Panthers, with rookie sensation Cam Newton leading the way, were more effective at running the ball.

You can see why the Saints would like to keep Nicks.

However, New Orleans has a tough financial situation this year. Drew Brees is a free agent, but he's not going anywhere. Whether the Saints use the franchise tag or hammer out a new contract, Brees will command top dollar, leaving precious little room for other priorities. Besides Brees, they have other needs to attend to, including a decision about free agent receiver Marques Colston and finding some desperately needed help for their defense.

It is going to be very difficult for the Saints to keep Nicks. If they do, it will come at the expense of other players and priorities.

The Money

Complicating matters for the Saints is that they already have the league's highest-paid guard on their roster. Jahri Evans signed a seven-year, $56.7 million contract in May 2010.

New Orleans might already realize their pickle with Nicks. The Saints' guard told the Times-Picayune earlier this month that he would 'love' to stay with the team. In the same interview he acknowledged that the Saints had not talked to him about a new deal.

Nicks, 26, will fetch a deal similar to what his fellow guard received and he could easily get more. That's the going rate for top guards.

Potential Destinations

Plenty of teams need guards this year (and every year), and would love to throw money at one of the league's best.

Keep an eye on the Cleveland Browns. They need interior line help and they have gobs of cap space available. Another team in the AFC North in need of a guard is the Cincinnati Bengals. All of their starters are ticketed for free agency. The Bengals tasted the playoffs in 2011, and they will not want to see that progress slip away, especially after empty seats continued to plague the team. Denver needs help at guard too, regardless of how far the Tim Tebow experiment progresses. Arizona, Indianapolis, Miami, St. Louis and Tennessee all need help at guard, too.

It's hard to predict where, exactly, he'll land. But if I had to guess he'll be playing somewhere other than New Orleans in 2012.

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